RUTGERS STUDENT WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER GIVES PERSPECTIVE ON HOW HIS STRUGGLE COULD TRULY BE AIDED
By: Khaya R. Dillon
Nathan is a college student suffering from bipolar disorder, who, due to his condition, struggles with feeling alienated and unwanted by others. Nathan is 26 years old and identifies himself as a super senior, because he started attending Rutgers University in 2007. Due to an episode of severe depression caused by his medical illness, Nathan took a couple years off from school and returned in 2014 after recovering. He had started as a pre-med student his first semester, but failed two classes and accumulated a grade point average of 1.5 by the end of the term, almost failing out of school.
Nathan is not the real name of this featured student. Raritan River Review agreed to allow him to remain anonymous because of the stigma often associated with the mental illness.
“I just did not have the study habits. I wasn’t capable of it,” Nathan explained the cause of his low GPA, “I procrastinated too much, and was too unstable to do something like that.” By “unstable” Nathan was referring to the shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function that plagues those with bipolar disorder.
Those with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings, from phases of mania to depression. The manic phase is characterized by high levels of energy and irritability. In contrast, the depression phase is characterized by melancholia, low energy, and low motivation.
“You have manic highs, and then you have depressing lows where you go from thinking you’re a prophet, to save everyone, to feeling like you don’t want to live or get up in the morning. Hopeless, then you feel like you’re invincible,” Nathan said, giving a description based on his experiences.
According to Medical Daily, the development of bipolar disorder is a mixture of different factors “ranging from gene mutations to a person’s upbringing, as well as that person’s penchant for anxiety and other mental health issues.” Recent studies show that individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder usually have several of 164 identified rare genes. According to the article, “If a person already suffers from anxiety, or other mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or social phobia, they may have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder.”
According to Nathan, his mother also had bipolar disorder. Long before his diagnosis he had thought of the possibility of inheriting it from her. Fearful, he looked up definitions in the dictionary. “Not sure if that was a self-fulfilling prophecy or not, or if it was going to happen anyway,” he commented.
Entering college, Nathan did not seek accommodations at the Rutgers Office of Disability Service for his bipolar disorder. “I could have applied, but I never wanted to and I didn’t have enough reason to either,” he stated, “I would have just gotten extra time for tests and extended deadlines, that’s all they really offer.” He explained, however, that a couple times when he did want an extension on something, he would go directly to the dean of students or his professor and explain his situation.
According to Nathan, there weren’t any accommodations he felt colleges could give that would be more useful to those with his condition. He felt that the primary reason he had not done well in his classes his first semester was because he had few friends, and the ones he did have were “bad” friends.
“I had [expletive] friends, cause I was a [expletive] person,” Nathan stated, “. . . I’m the type of person that needs a lot of emotional support. The fact that I was unstable and judgmental prevented me from having the kind of friends I needed to get through school. Cause I’d get so depressed and lonely that… I didn’t care too much that I was doing so badly. I wouldn’t have any motivation. I’d be sad and just give up here and there.”
Individuals with bipolar disorder are often alienated by others because of their eccentric personalities, and the lack of others knowing these eccentricities are symptoms of this disorder. Aside from mood swings, the other traits that characterize bipolar disorder is not well known by the general public. Some other symptoms include unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, agitation, inflated self-esteem, and inability to finish work. No case of bipolar disorder is exactly the same, but many inflicted individuals have a hard time fitting in with the rest of society.
“I learned that the manic states can be a lot more subtle than I expected them to be,” Ashley Robin said, a Rutgers student who became friends with Nathan around April 2015, “I didn’t realize it can be where he’s not realizing what he’s doing, which can be very annoying. I thought it’d be like he’s very happy during those times.”
Ashley Robin has had difficulties getting along with Nathan due to his sometimes inappropriate behavior, but is still interacting with him. She explained that the first time they met, Nathan had tackled her to the ground, playfully, after playing racquetball. “I didn’t think he was assaulting me or anything, but… it was kind of weird.” Ashley Robin found out he had bipolar disorder the day they met. She explained that his personality and the disorder seemed very intertwined, where it’s hard to make a distinction between the two.
According to Ashley Robin, she takes Nathan’s bipolar disorder into account when he does something unusual or rude. “(I have) Definitely let his behavior slide and got use to not taking it to heart. He usually explains his behaviors later in terms of bipolar disorder. Like, ‘Oh, I did this because I was manic that day.’”
Ashley did admit, however, that though she still interacts with him, she has been more distant towards Nathan due to an incident she did not want to give details about.
Back when Nathan lacked the friends he has now, he dropped out of college. He explained that the fewer the people he had around him the more unstable he would become. This was creating a downward spiral, as the more unstable he was, the harder it was to make friends.
“I remember I met this girl in Singapore on OkCupid.com, and I was skyping to her and she was my only lifeline,” Nathan recalled, “She seemed nice, I really needed her, but the way I couldn’t touch her. We only saw one side of each other cause we never met. She would have rejected me like everyone else (I’ve met) in person. And I knew that after a while, and that’s why it eventually ended cause it was never going to happen—started talking about meeting and I knew my instability would really come out then. She was thinking about coming to visit, so we stopped talking.”
Nathan’s circumstances have improved as he’s made more friends. According to him, the main turning point was when he took therapy sessions with other individuals suffering from bipolar disorder. In these therapy sessions, he was finally able to find understanding with like-minded individuals. He has, however, been able to make friends with disorders and without. Nathan did admit, however, that he still struggles with making friends and has the recurring fear that he’ll act up and drive them away.
“(When telling someone I have bipolar disorder) I feel most comfortable with people who don’t try to change the subject, like their uncomfortable,” he shared when asked to describe the qualities in a friends he appreciates.